This post is by Ian Sankey, Golden Key’s Director of Canada, who traveled to Peru through G Adventures.
We are back from our whirlwind tour of Peru. Our trip included 3 cities, multiple Incan historical sites, an animal sanctuary, an Alpaca wool factory, flying condors, delicious food, salsa lessons, feeding llamas, incredible views, new friends, trains, planes, and automobiles… and of course… our 4 day trek to the famed Machu Picchu.
Before I get further into my story, if you are looking to participate in a future Golden Key G Adventures trip, next up is a trip to Vietnam in December. My good friend and Golden Key’s Asia-Pacific Director, Andrew Roe, is going on the trip. I traveled to Vietnam about 5 years ago and it is a wonderful country to visit– great beaches, vibrant cities, friendly people, amazing food, and beautiful landscapes. Halong Bay is a magical place and Hoi An is where I bought my favorite, and only, custom-made suit. For more info you can check out: Explore Vietnam. You can save an additional $100 on our already discounted price if you book by August 15th.
Back to Peru- Our trip started in the capital city of Lima. About one third of Peru’s 29 million inhabitants live in Lima. This sprawling metropolis is home to one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the world. The National University of San Marcos was founded in 1551 and is the oldest continuously functioning university in the Americas.
We arrived during Peru’s winter but the weather was great the whole time we were there. Winter is the dry season and it lived up to the name as we only saw 1 day of light rain in the 9 days we were there. The whole group met up on a Sunday night to talk about the plans for the week ahead. Our group was made up of student and alumni members, and some friends and family, from Canada, the US, and South Africa. Our local guide, Fernando, was a great guy from southern Peru. He always had a smile on his face and a story at the ready to make everyone laugh. He taught us a lot about local life in Peru and showed us the best spots to eat, shop, and take pictures. We went over everything from local customs to what we would need on the Inca Trail and then everyone headed out to dinner.
We had an early start the next day to head inland to the city of Cusco. Cusco sits at an elevation of 11,200 feet, high in the Andes Mountains. Many of us were taking medication for the altitude, as it is sometimes hard for the body to adjust to the change in elevation. At about 9am Monday morning we found ourselves coming in for a landing at a small airport surrounded by what seemed like endless mountain peaks in all directions. We headed over to drop our bags off at the hotel and then met up to tour the city with Fernando. Cusco was the historical capital of the Inca Empire and many incredible stone walls can still be found all over the city. When the Spanish arrived in 1534 they destroyed many of the Inca buildings, temples, and palaces but they used the remaining walls as the bases for the construction of their new city. The Incan stone work in really remarkable and many of the walls were constructed with no mortar. The giant stones fit together like a puzzle with no gaps between the massive pieces. In 1950, an earthquake shook Cusco and many of the more modern buildings were destroyed but the Incan walls stood strong. The stones were said to dance as the earth trembled and then set themselves back down into the same perfect position.
Trivia question: What crime can you be whipped for committing in Cusco? Jaywalking! The city has a safety patrol that walks back and forth on the median of the city’s main street carrying a long cow whip and wearing a traditional mask with a giant nose. Their job is to discourage jaywalking with a comical twist. I don’t think they would really whip anyone that hard but their presence is definitely a reminder to cross at the light.
We spent the afternoon walking around the city learning about the old Incan structures and newer Spanish buildings. We visited an Alpaca wool factory just outside of the city and I bought a wool hat and gloves for the cold nights ahead in the mountains. Alpaca wool has gained popularity in recent years and is warmer that sheep’s wool along with being very soft to the touch and hypoallergenic as it has no lanolin. It so happened that we headed out to dinner later that night to a restaurant that was famous for its Alpaca burgers.
Trivia question: What animal is traditionally served on special occasions in Peru? If you said Guinea pig then you are correct. It is usually served fried or baked. It tasted a little bit like chicken.
From Cusco we headed through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo, a town located along the Patakancha River and a typical starting point for tourists looking to hike the Inca Trail. We stopped by an animal sanctuary and got to see some special creatures up close. In Incan mythology, the condor is said to represent the gods, the puma represents mankind, and the snake represents death or the afterlife. We saw a few pumas that had been rescued. Unfortunately, some of them had been declawed by previous owners so would never return to the wild. We also saw a giant condor. Those are truly massive birds with a wingspan that can be over 10 feet. No snakes here but there were alpacas, turtles, parrots, deer, and a Peruvian dog with a mohawk. We also visited the Planeterra weaving project in a local indigenous community. This venture is supported by G Adventures. Local women maintain traditional weaving skills and dying techniques while showcasing their heritage.
Ollantaytambo is both a city and an Inca archaeological site. We visited these Incan ruins shortly after arriving in town. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region and built the town and a ceremonial center. At the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru it served as a stronghold for the Inca resistance.
Trivia question: What does the word Inca mean? The term Inka in Quechua (the language of the people of Peru before the Spanish arrived) means ruler or king. When the Spanish arrived they heard the local people using this term and adopted it to mean all the subjects of the empire. We therefor now refer to all the people of that civilization as the Incan people when really that term was reserved just for the ruling class.
As we came to the end of day 3 of our tour we were all getting excited for the long hike ahead. We could leave some luggage at the hotel so we were all trying to decide what we really needed on the trail. Once we left the next day, we would be hiking with whatever we brought (minus the 12 lbs. of gear we could give to the porters). We were all pretty tired when it was time to gather for dinner. Fernando said he had a surprise for us and we weren’t going to eat just yet. We all groaned a bit as we were pretty hungry and ready for bed. What was going to delay dinnertime? Salsa time! Fernando took it upon himself to teach us all some basic salsa moves. The music started and we were all dancing. He said that when he took us out dancing in Cusco when we got back from the trek, he wanted us to know some basic steps so we could all enjoy the salsa fest. We quickly found some renewed energy as we laughed and watched Fernando trying to teach us all how to feel the rhythm and follow the music. We finally went out to eat, had a good laugh over dinner recalling all that we had done already in such a short period of time, and promptly fell asleep the minute we got home. We had an early start in the morning and the Inca Trail awaited us.
Trivia question: What do Jabba the Hutt, Greedo, and the Incan Empire have in common? They all spoke Quechua. When looking for an alien language to use in the Star Wars films, George Lucas settled on Quechua as a base. One of our guides, Vladimir, said he was watching the Star Wars movies and was startled when he heard the aliens speaking actual Quechua words (which he speaks fluently).
My next blog post will cover the 4-day hike to one of the 7 new wonder of the world. Almost every moment on the trail had postcard perfect views. The adventure that was to come had some unexpected twists but our final destination was ahead and only 10,000 ancient stone steps, Dead Woman’s Pass, the cloud forest, and 25 miles of hiking lay between Machu Picchu and us.